Paul’s trouble with the Corinthians reached its zenith after some folks in the Corinthian church began to proclaim the grave was the forever end. These folks were insisting there is no resurrection of the dead, and because there is no resurrection of the dead, their remaining time would therefore be best spent in wine, women and song – “let us eat, drink and be merry.”
Paul’s countered this argument with an argument of his own. If there is no resurrection of the dead then not even Christ Himself was raised, because He too died. But if Christ was not raised, then we are all still in our sins. Our faith is futile, because He remains dead.
The truth is Christ did raise. Unfortunately, somewhere along the 2000 years or so of church history, belief in a literal, physical resurrection got turned into belief in an eternal, immaterial existence. Folks went from believing Christ will one day raise them from the dead to believing they are immaterial, bodiless creatures that can never die.
How this happened is beyond the scope of this study. That it did happen and why it is unbiblical is what this study will instead focus upon.
It was the first lie Satan told man. You will not die. Today, millions, perhaps billions even around the world, both Christian and non-Christian alike are convinced he was right. They have found an intellectual loophole. Rather than dying, they believe they are instead going to be transformed in some sense into an immaterial, disembodied substance they call a soul or spirit, and that this soul or spirit is going to continue to exist in this state in either perpetual bliss or perpetual torment long after their body has moldered in the grave. Voila, Satan’s lie accomplished. You will not die.
To be sure, most of these people have never heard the gospel and could not care, but not all are like this. There are a few brothers out there who do think along these lines. This study is for them. These are the folks who think redemption means never having to die. After all, if Jesus really has saved His people from the penalty for their sins, then they cannot die, because dying would be the same as suffering the penalty for their sins.
Yeah, okay, so they do still physically die. And yeah, okay so they still haven’t been raised from the dead yet. And yeah, okay, so they still aren’t living forever on a new earth yet. But at least they still get to be disembodied and conscious in heaven, amirite. And isn’t that what Jesus came to do? To turn His people into ghosts?
I’m being facetious, but I do think Paul would answer these guys that we still die and we’re still not living on a new earth, because we haven’t been planted into the ground yet like a kernel of wheat. You have to be planted first. Only then do you get to become a flower. It’s the argument he made with the Corinthians, and so it’s the place where we will begin.
1 Corinthians 15
12 Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.15 We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised.17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead.22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
29 Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?30 Why are we in danger every hour?31 I protest, brothers, by my pride in you, which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die every day!32 What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.”34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
35 But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?”36 You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.37 And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain.38 But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.39 For not all flesh is the same, but there is one kind for humans, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another.41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory.
42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable.43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.45 Thus it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
Returning to Paul’s answer to those in the Corinthian church who were denying resurrection. If there is no resurrection, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then we more than all men are to be most pitied, for our faith is futile. But Christ did rise. More than this, in fact, His resurrection was the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
In other words, Christ was the first and not instead the last to undergo resurrection. Those who have been made righteous by His death and have since fallen asleep will one day also be resurrected. It was, after all, a man who brought death in; it is therefore necessary that a man also bring resurrection in; because as in Adam all DIE, so also in Christ shall all be made ALIVE.
Paul anticipates another challenge in lieu of his response. One of these knuckle-headed Corinthians is bound to ask with bemusement just how the dead are raised. With what body are they raised, Paul, hmm? Can you tell me that?
Understand the argument. In other words, since you’ve died and your body has moldered to dust, with what body then can you possibly be raised with? You’ve got no more body, Paul! There’s no more body to be had! With what body then can you be raised?
Paul answers this knuckle-headed challenge by appealing to the farmer. What the farmer sows into the ground in the Spring is not what rises to life six months later during harvest. You bury a single, hard and ugly bulb into the ground. Six months later you’ve got a tall and beautiful tulip staring up at you.
Paul’s point is that the body sown into the soil is not the same kind of body that is going to emerge from the soil. Notice this though. They are both still bodies. Both are still physical. Keep this in mind, because I know plenty of brothers who forget this part every time they go cherry picking through this passage.
What is sown is perishable, Paul argues. But what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. Body. Remember this.
Paul then concludes his argument with a sort of mini doxology. Beginning with verse 50, he writes:
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.
Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, he says. And I know lots of people who insist this proves they will never die, because they will go to live in God’s presence without a body. But what has Paul just finished saying? It is a body that is raised imperishable. A body. That’s the point. It is not some immaterial, disembodied consciousness instead that puts on the imperishable.
But when Paul? When will those in Christ who have fallen asleep put on the imperishable? At the last trumpet. At the resurrection when Christ returns to raise His people.
At that time what was sown into the ground as perishable will be changed. It will rise from the ground imperishable. A body is how the elect will be clothed with the immortal and imperishable.
But Dave, you might be saying, the Bible does elsewhere use the word spirit and soul in reference to man, so how can you say we are not and never will be a disembodied consciousness?
I say indeed the Bible does use the word soul and spirit in reference to man. But point in fact, in the New Testament, the two Greek words translated “spirit” (pneuma) and “soul” (psyche) are very closely related. Both are related to the word for “breath”.
Psyche is most often translated as life, soul, mind and breath. It signifies life in terms of physical and mental existence. Some examples of this include:
Matthew 2:20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life (psyche).
Matthew 6:25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life (psyche), what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
Matthew 20:28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life(psyche) a ransom for many.
John 10:15 As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life (psyche) for the sheep.
Acts 7:14 Then sent Joseph, and called his father Jacob to him, and all his kindred, threescore and fifteen souls (psyche).
Acts 14:2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and made their minds (pysche) evil affected against the brethren.
Here is an online link to the Strong’s concordance showing every instance of the word psyche as it appears in Scripture so that you can see for yourself.
Keep in mind, we are not cherry picking these verses. In fact, we are not even going to use any of them to help form any kind of opinion about our subject. Rather, we are instead only taking a look at some random verses to discover the various ways in which the Greek word for soul has been translated.
As for pneuma, this word is most often translated spirit and breath. It is the word the New Testament uses most often to identify the Holy Spirit, angels, demons, and yes, also men. It is sometimes also used to identify a person’s attitude, such as in 1 Corinthians 4:21 “What will ye? shall I come unto you with a rod, or in love, and in the spirit (pneuma) of meekness?”
Here is another link to the Strong’s concordance showing how pneuma is used.
The Old Testament follows the same pattern. It too uses soul and spirit in the same way. As you can see from the link provided immediately above, pneuma’s Old Testament counterpart is the word, ruwach. Ruwach, like pneuma itself, is also used to identify God’s Spirit.
However, the most common use for the word pneuma relates to wind, and in particular, wind in reference to God’s judgment.
Consider Genesis 2:8, for example.
Genesis 2:8 And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool (ruwach) of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden
The word ruwach has been translated as “cool” in this verse. Why? Why has it been translated “cool of the day” when the word ruwach means Spirit or breath?
Consider the fact that translators are tasked with the very difficult job of not only translating the Hebrew and Greek into English, but also with the job of trying to translate the text in a way that makes the most sense to even the most uneducated English speaker. It would be like trying to translate a 15th century Chinese philosophy book into something a third grader could understand while at the same time holding the interest of a thirty-year old.
With this in mind, the word ruwach is most often translated as Spirit, anger, blast, air, breath. Here again is an online link so you can see for yourself:
The reason the translators chose “cool of the day” rather than “spirit of the day” or “breath of the day” is because neither of these make much sense to most people. This is because most people have never considered the word “day” as it relates to God’s judgment.
In the Bible, the day of the Lord is a phrase often used in reference to God executing His judgment.
Isaiah 24:21-22 So it will happen in that day. That the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high. And the kings of the earth on earth. They will be gathered together like prisoners to the dungeon.
The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Consider Psalm 18.
I love you, O Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised,
and I am saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death encompassed me;
the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me;
the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the Lord;
to my God I cried for help.
From his temple He heard my voice,
and my cry to Him reached His ears.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked;
the foundations also of the mountains trembled
and quaked, because He was angry.
8 Smoke went up from His nostrils,
and devouring fire from His mouth;
glowing coals flamed forth from Him.
9 He bowed the heavens and came down;
thick darkness was under His feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew;
He came swiftly on the wings of the wind (ruwach).
11 He made darkness his covering, His canopy around him,
thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before Him
hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
and the Most High uttered His voice,
hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And He sent out His arrows and scattered them;
He flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen,
and the foundations of the world were laid bare
at Your rebuke, O Lord,
at the blast of the breath (ruwach) of Your nostrils.
We find in Genesis 3:8 this idea of God’s rebuke appearing in the garden with the sudden blast of the breath of His nostrils. The foundations of mankind’s existence is going to be laid bare. Adam has disobeyed. Death is now going to enter into the world. The rebuke is startling, sudden, and shocking. His rebuke is like the whirlwind, rushing into the garden with fierce, howling anger.
God enters the garden in judgment. There is no doubting from God’s rebuke just why He is there either. He has come to set up court, to execute justice and to bring judgment upon Adam for his disobedience. “Adam, where are you?” Step forth. Gird yourself like a man. Bring in the defendant.
The other Hebrew word for soul and spirit is nĕshamah. It corresponds more closely to psyche, but is also often translated breath, as in God breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life.
What we find so fascinating about these four words is the fact that Scripture often uses them interchangeably. For instance, we are told in places like Ecclesiastes that both man and animal have one ruwach, the breath of life.
Ecclesiastes 3:19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath (ruwach); so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.
Man has no preeminence above beasts. Why? The word of God tells us why. Man has no preeminence above beasts, because man and beast both have one ruwach.
We are shown this again in passages like Genesis 6.
Genesis 6:17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruwach) of life, from under heaven; and everything that is in the earth shall die.
Genesis 7:15 And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruwach) of life.
Genesis 8:1 And God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark: and God made a wind (ruwach) to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged
We are told that everything with the breath of life died in the flood. (This excludes, of course, all whom the Lord had preserved on the ark.)
But what about Genesis 2 where we are told God breathed into the man the breath of life. This time the word is not ruwach, but instead nĕshamah.
Genesis 2: then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath (nĕshamah) of life, and the man became a living creature.
Here again, the Bible uses this word for both man and beast.
Genesis 7:20-22 The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep. And all flesh died that moved on the earth, birds, livestock, beasts, all swarming creatures that swarm on the earth, and all mankind. Everything on the dry land in whose nostrils was the breath (nĕshamah ) of life died.
Joshua 10:40 So Joshua struck the whole land, the hill country and the Negeb and the lowland and the slopes, and all their kings. He left none remaining, but devoted to destruction all that breathed (nĕshamah), just as the Lord God of Israel commanded.
In fact, just like the word ruwach, this other word nĕshamah is also used in reference to God’s breath coming in judgment.
2 Samuel 22:16
Then the channels of the sea were seen;
the foundations of the world were laid bare,
at the rebuke of the Lord,
at the blast of the breath (nĕshamah) of His nostrils.
So often are these two words interchangeable that we get texts like this one:
as long as my breath (nĕshamah) is in me,
and the Spirit (ruwach) of God is in my nostrils,
my lips will not speak falsehood,
and my tongue will not utter deceit.
The same word used to identify the life of birds and fish and beasts is also used to identify the Spirit of God. What are we to do with this?
Thankfully, we have texts like Psalm 104 that help explain this.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
15 and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.
19 He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
23 Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.
24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
27 These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
when You take away their breath (ruwach), they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your Spirit (ruwach), they are created,
and You renew the face of the ground.
If we were to cherry pick this Psalm by plucking verses 29 and 30 free from their context, then we might walk away thinking the Bible tells us that only man has the breath or the spirit of life. This is clearly not the case though.
This Psalm tells us that all living things, animals as well as men, have the breath of life. In Genesis 2:7 when we are told the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. We know this is true of birds and fish and animals too. We just aren’t told about this until later, in places like Genesis 6, Job, and Psalm 104.
All living things have the breath of life in them; from the antelope to the serpent. The breath of life is not an eternal, immaterial part of man that we call a soul or spirit. The Scriptures do not use the words soul and spirit in this way. We have seen this.
Rather, the Scriptures consistently associate the words soul and spirit with the living, biological process of respiration. Even when it comes to God’s own Spirit, the Bible associates His Spirit and the Spirit’s activities with the biological process of respiration. He is the living God. The conscious God. The God who thinks, senses and animates. He is not a senseless, artificial program or machine.
The problem arises when we move beyond this and assume the word soul or spirit refers to an eternal, immaterial part of our conscious that is independent our corporal, material bodies. The Bible does not talk this way.
We have seen the Bible use the word spirit in reference to the life of fish, fowl, beast and man. We have seen the Bible speak of God breathing into both man and beast the same breath of life. We have seen the Bible use this same word to indicate His own Spirit. We must not and cannot be Biblically consistent while concluding from this that we are going to continue to exist in some immaterial, disembodied way after our bodies die. We may find other texts to indicate this, but let us not say we can Biblically deduce this from the words soul and spirit. We simply cannot. The Bible will not permit us to.
Think about it, what keeps our heart pumping and our brain cells firing? We aren’t Deists, are we? We don’t believe God jump started our hearts at some point in the past while we were in the womb and then stepped back to watch it gradually wind down seventy or so years later, did He? Of course not.
A day is coming for each one of us when God’s Spirit will cease to sustain our breath. At that point we will go down into the earth like a kernel of corn. However, the Bible also promises that a day is coming in which the Son of God will return with a trumpet blast. Blast, breath, get it?
At this appointed point in time the Spirit will once more restore the breath of life to the newly resurrected bodies of His people, causing them to live and breath forever more. And from this resurrection there shall never again come a day when the Spirit will ever again cease to sustain His people with the breath of life. God will have clothed them with immortality.
In the next part we will examine the texts to see whether the Scriptures do teach that we will one day be disembodied. Until then, I hope you will give what we have discussed here some thought.